The Even More Amazing ifi Micro iPhono 2 MM/MC Phono Preamplifier

While the new iPhono 2 appears on the outside to be identical to the original iPhono, reviewed back in 2012 on analogplanet.com, don’t let the similar appearance fool you: the iPhono 2 is a completely new and vastly improved phono preamplifier—and the original was already plenty good.

The price has risen $100 but comparing the older and newer iPhono demonstrates an improvement well beyond one quarter better.

But first, what’s changed: for starters gain can now be set up to 72dB for ultra-low output moving coil cartridges—or as low as 36dB for MM.

Dynamic range has been upped from 90dB to an ear-opening 106dB—that’s an increase of 15dB! The newly designed RIAA circuit is spec’d at ±0.2dB accuracy from 20Hz-20kHz.

The unit uses a further refined Class A TubeState™ circuit utilizing a new Burr-Brown Soundplus® J-FET amp as part of the J-FET/BJT output buffer. The circuit reduces the load seen by the main amplification circuit, which is said to improve linearity. Power supply flitering has been increased by a factor of five. Noise levels are said to approach the theoretical room temperature limits. The spec’d signal to noise ratio is claimed to be 3dB better on MC and 10dB quieter on MM.

The original iPhono had a pair of coupling capacitors to rid DC from the output and no DC servo. The new iPhono 2 incorporates an all-new Direct-Drive Servo-less ‘DC Infinity’ circuit, that has no capacitor and no DC-Servo, so it adds into the audio path zero noise and no distortion.

Parts quality has also been upped, including the use of more Japanese TDK C0G capacitors and ultra-low distortion (<0.00001%@1V/10kHz) Panasonic ECPU film capacitors specifically designed for use in audio circuits and compared to the original iPhono many more Vishay MELF type thin film resistors. There’s also a new 15V power supply versus the original’s 9V one.

Identical Feature Set

The iPhono 2’s feature set duplicates the original’s. There are separate MM and MC inputs on one side and a single set of RCA output jacks on the other. On bottom are three sets of dipswitches: one sets capacitive MM loading and selects MM or MC, a second selects MC resistive loading (33 ohms, 330 ohms, 1k ohm), while the third gives you EQ options plus the extra gain if needed. As in the original iPhono, your equalization choices are RIAA, eRIAA, IEC, and DECCA and Columbia.

Please read what I wrote in the original review about these options and add to it this: I was fortunate enough to speak with one of the last surviving original UK Decca mastering engineers George Bettyes. Mr. Bettyes insisted that Decca implemented the RIAA curve as soon as the company began issuing stereo records. He also insisted that UK Decca and American London records were identical other than the labels used. That is why, he insisted, all older American stereo London records say on them “use the RIAA curve”. So when you read in the instructions here about using the Columbia curve on ‘70s era stereo records, do yourself a favor and ignore them! Ditto what’s suggested about Decca records and the Decca FFRR curve!!!!!!!!

If these records sound “better” with those curves, you are using them as a tone control and not for strictly accurate playback.

Yes, But How Does it Sound?

The iPhono 2’s default settings are 60dB of gain, RIAA EQ eRIAA (enhanced with Neumann time constant (see original iPhono review), and 1k ohm resistive loading.

While the iPhono 2 sounds very good out of the box, to fully appreciate its sonic flower it must be given a chance to warm up and break in. At first I thought it sounded very much like the original but with clearly better bass. After an extended break in time, the differences between the original and the new iPhono became major and even profound.

I mostly ran it using the VPI Prime turntable fitted with a Lyra Helikon SL cartridge, which outputs a very low .22mV and has an internal impedance of 3 ohms. It’s very detailed and “fast” overall, but less than lush sounding in the midrange. I had certain expectations of what I’d hear.

(I did find that though a 3 ohm internal impedance normally calls for loading of 100 ohms or less, the iPhono 2 sounded best at the default 1kHz setting).

First of all the iPhono 2’s bottom end is far more fully extended and fleshed out than was the original, of which I wrote: “The iPhono didn't plumb the depths but how many are going to use it with speakers capable of below 30Hz response? The bass that was there, however, was very clean, precise and well-controlled.”

On the new double LP set of dub style Jamaican music with some breezy Brazilian thrown in for variety Sunshine Seas by New Zion w. Cyro (RareNoise RNR065LP), the iPhono 2 proved that it does “plumb the depths” that the original iPhono doesn’t manage. Bass was deeper, tighter, more forceful, and yet as clean, precise and controlled as before. A major upgrade.

I described the original as lacking in midrange bloom, with attack that was “… clean and fast, the sustain was somewhat lacking and decay was pretty stingy.” That was the case here too upon first turn-on, but over time as the unit broke in, bloom improved as did the generosity of the sustain and decay. The midrange became “bloomin’” liquid, in fact.

I also complained (only a bit, given the $399 price) about the original’s lack of stage depth, but with the improved bloom, sustain and decay, stage depth greatly improved. It was easy to switch back and forth between the two iPhonos. The improvements rendered by the new iPhono 2 were easy to hear—especially the bass depth and solidity on the dub music.

So take what’s said in the original review and remove the negatives and that’s what you get for $499: an even more impressive and versatile phono preamplifier that produced a level of liquidity, bloom and textures the original missed, along with superior bass and more precise transients along with blacker backgrounds and easily heard improved transparency.

A really good and versatile phono preamplifier has given way to one that’s ridiculously good. The price has gone up $100 but the new iPhono 2 is easily more than twice as good as the original. A major achievement in budget priced phono gear. If you have an original iPhono should you sell and upgrade to the iPhono 2? Definitely, unless you’re looking to seriously upgrade, in which case you’ll be spending well more than $499 and even then, if you’re not careful you may spend much more and not get something better than the iPhone 2! Highly recommended! (for complete specs and details visit the ifi Audio website.

COMMENTS
jblackhall's picture

Doing a review of the VPI Prime? For here or Stereophile?

Michael Fremer's picture
Here soon
Dorian Workman's picture

Was wondering whether you had something against the Prime!

Dorian Workman's picture

I currently own a Traveler and am considering upgrading to a Prime, if you could possible compare the two please, I'd really appreciate it!

512austintexas's picture

I've been looking into getting a phono preamp for my vintage system (Pioneer SX-1250, Micro-Seiki BL-51 turntable with a Grado Prestige (green) cartridge into Phase-Tech 8.5 speakers) and just found out that I'm about to inherit an old Harmon-Kardon Citation II that once belonged to my father. I understand that the Citation is highly respected, but after reading your glowing review of the iFi Micro iPhono 2 I'm wondering if I should forego the ancient 70 lb. beast and invest in something more modern. What would you suggest?

fetuso's picture

Michael, nice review. This is moving to the top of my list for a preamp upgrade. Do you plan on reviewing any of the new Rega or Music Hall TT's in the $1000 - $1500 range? I'd love for you to be able to do more product reviews. Thanks

Michael Fremer's picture
More coming
Ktracho's picture

Are they at all useful for mono records? I don't have many of them, but I've always wondered if you need two phono preamps, one with all the curves for mono records, and another one for stereo records, given that very few phono preamps offer more than one curve. Or are you better off with just one good quality phono preamp, even if you want to listen to mono records on occasion?

Ortofan's picture

Any plans for JA to run a set of measurements to confirm the claimed increases in S/N ratio and dynamic range?

When you referred to "1kHz resistive loading", did you instead mean 1k ohm?

Michael Fremer's picture
yes, meant 1kohm...will fix...
Michael Fremer's picture
JA has enough to do at Stereophile so I don't think he'll have time to measure this. It sounds quieter that's for sure and lower noise floor equals wider dynamic range...
musicminded's picture

How does it compare now to the Lehmann Audio Black Cube SE in your opinion? Time to change to this iPhono 2?

Michael Fremer's picture
I don't have one here and it's really impossible to compare now...
treyroscoe's picture

If you are in the US and don't have a local dealer who carries the iPhono, these are carried by Music Direct which has an excellent return policy if you do not prefer the iPhono.

Rockadelic's picture

Hi,
How about reviewing the other 2 much talked about phono stages, namely the Lounge & the Parks Audio-Budgie?

Ortofan's picture

... the Emotiva XPS-1, the Cambridge Audio CP-2, and the Pro-Ject PhonoBox S or DS.

lensimons's picture

Thanks for the review, Michael. I bought an iPhono2 last week and have been thrilled with what I'm hearing. I'm using a VPI Classic 3 with SDS and a Clearaudio Maestro Wood MM cartridge.
As it breaks in I"m hearing deeper into the music and noticing a much bigger and more defined sound stage, not to mention the phenomenal bass.
It's hard to believe this little wonder is only $500!

(My only complaint is that the miniscule typeface surrounding the dip switches is really tough to read with my middle-aged eyes. Perhaps iFi should include a magnifying glass with each unit.)

Michael Fremer's picture
Agreed!
ravenacustic's picture

I have been using the Hovland Hp-100 phono section for 16 years. Always found it ver good. But having recently purchased a Symposium Acoustic Osiris Rack, added resolution and subtraction of distortion showed a lack of quality in the phono pre. I own a Transfiguration Proteus so I didn't buy the original IFi with only 60db gain. But the 2 with 72db and multiple loading options and as an urban dweller with limited room, I pre-ordered one. The Proteus has an internal impedence of 1 ohm. The ifi2 enabled me to find a soul satisfying load setting of 76.5 ohms coupled wth 72db gain and the increased power supply simply embarrassed my Hovland phono pre. IMO one of high end audio's best recent achievements. If you walked into an audio showroom with a mega $$$ phono pre shown but not in use and the ifi2 hooked up but out of sight no one would know the trick played on them. It's that good. And yes Mike, 50-100 hours break-in makes this little trouble maker a real contender,

jsh's picture

I've heard the original iPhono and thought it was pretty darn good and had a lot of versatile settings, assuming you could read the microscopic lettering on the bottom.

But iFi fired the US distributor Avatar Acoustics a while ago, and I get bad vibes from that. Who do they have for support and service? They also dropped Avatar as AMR distributor, which is even more troubling. What were they thinking? Without good representation and solid service a component is worthless. I think they shot themselves in the foot, big time.

jhm3's picture

As pointed out by the previous commenter, they dropped Avatar Acoustics as their distributor. In talking with a couple of the resellers that were supplied by Avatar, the first they knew of this decision was the receipt of an email saying that Avatar was no longer their distributor and they would be advised about how to order shortly. When I called Avatar they had not been formally advised that they were no longer the distributor. They had heard about it from the resellers and were attempting to determine what had changed. Avatar were puzzled by this as iFi Audio had no other distribution system in place! I am not sure what transpired but I do know that Avatar was a strong proponent of the iFi product line and was selling lots of units. This decision makes no sense to me and I hope that someone will come forth with a rational explanation! I own five iFi products, but I am waiting until I find out more about iFi's plans before I commit to any more of their products.

dsnyder0cnn's picture

Another great review. I'm looking forward to hearing one of these someday!

Related to the topic of distribution in the US, those of us who have dealt with Avatar Acoustics in the past appreciated their excellent service. I'm sure each of us have stories of how they went above and beyond normal expectations to take care of us...that's just how Darren operates the business.

It's unlikely that iFi will issue a press release describing in detail their reasons for parting ways with Avatar or especially how they handled the transition. As happy and loyal customers of both companies, the best we can hope for from iFi is to bolster their new distribution and service team and actually deliver on product and service commitments. We will also stay in touch with Avatar and support whatever new initiatives Darren takes on since we know that good people make great things happen.

I actually have an iFi product that needs some repair work, so I'll report back on the experience of working with the new support team in Washington once the work is complete.

The timing and events that separated these two companies were unfortunate, but I remain hopeful that iFi and Avatar Acoustics will continue to succeed since we all stand to benefit from their successes.

WINDIANRECORDS's picture

Just want to chime in and say I bought an iPhono from Avatar through Amazon and Amazon's distro sent me an iDAC something or other... I contacted Avatar directly and had a great chat with Darren about iFi, his shop, and audio so much that his bluetooth died! He cross-shipped the correct product and we didn't have to deal with Amazon messing up again, and seemed genuinely great to deal with. Just wanted to add my two cents since he was dealing with a small fry sale instead of the big boy stuff they must normally distribute...

cundare's picture

Mike:
In a phono preamp with both MM & MC inputs, which is appropriate for high-output MC cartridges? I still use a classic Adcom micro-ridge II cartridge, which has output well over 2mv. Running it through a passive PS Audio preamp (the preamp has only one set of inputs, marked simply "PHONO") produces output well in excess of the line-level outputs of disk players. And I mean like 18dB higher than the output of my Oppo!
So, on a newer device like the iFi, should a cartridge input be selected solely as a function of desired gain? That is, would you expect a problem connecting a high-output MC through the iFi's MM inputs? In my case, the Adcom has a 47K output impedance, so I'm not sure what other issues might exist.
"Inquiring Minds Want to Know" Don

Michael Fremer's picture
Usually intended for MM input. Load usually 47K unless you can choose lower all depends on how manufacturer specsit
edwhiu's picture

Hi Mike, are you saying i.e. a Dynavector 20-X2 H) / 2.8mV should be used with the MM input of the iPhono 2 with a 47k load?
Kind regards,
Edwin

MonetsChemist's picture

... as always, for reviewing a broad cross-section of phono gear. Yes it's great to hear about how wonderful something like the Boulder 1008 sounds but it's even greater to hear you enthusiastic for the quality of this ~$500 piece of equipment.

That you can be excited by a phono solution at this price range is a real testament to your dedication to all of us out here in phono-land, no matter our ability or inclination to spend. Kudos to you!

GoldenEar5Percenters's picture

Is all the filtering going on. Worried that it could EQ the sound or muffle it.

GoldenEar5Percenters's picture

Oops.

Marc P's picture

This unit sounds quite transparent, and smooth, yet neutral. Never muffled, never offensive, and it's a real deal.

isabel_archer's picture

Hi there,

sorry for asking, I think I'd missed something: where did you find the ifi micro phono 2 at 499 USD?

Thanks in advance.

Regards

i.

Michael_D_P's picture

I bought from Music Direct for 499. Had an issue with the power unit, but iFi sent me a new one directly. (Both iFi and Music Direct were very responsive on the issue)

Tombby's picture

I took your advice & purchased the iFi 2. I am happy & amazed.

Do you recommend RIAA or the default eRIAA?

Michael_D_P's picture

On a related note, does anyone else find the instructions on setting the RIAA EQ Curve confusing? According to the instructions, you set to eRIAA by pushing the designated switch to ON (circle). Likewise, to set to IEC you push the designated switch to ON (circle). But the instructions say that if you push both switches to ON (circle), it is just regular RIAA. And if you push both switches to OFF (dash), the RIAA EQ Curve = eRIAA + IEC. This seems backwards.

digitallc's picture

I really love this phono preamp, but wanted just a little bit more. So I tried a linear power supply this evening, instead of the iPower, and the sound is now even more amazing.

CD's picture

digitallc, is there a certain brand/model of linear power supply that you used? Are you still using it? So many different options and price points...not sure what you might recommend. Please advise.

digitallc's picture

CD, I used the SBooster with the Ultra attachment, and it worked really well to improve the sound. I also have SBoosters on other components.
I have since upgraded to an Audio Alchemy PPA-1/PS-5 with Cinemag 1254 SUT, and will likely use the iPhono2 with LPS in another system.

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